Woody Allen's first film shot in London is very different from most of his previous work. The acting is uniformly excellent, the sets and panoramic views are magnificent and really show off the best of modern London, the pace works well, and the drama gradually sucks you in. The story is fairly serious, there is little humour (zany or otherwise).
One warning - it would be easy to assume from the title and some of the packaging/advertising pictures which appear to show Scarlett Johanssen in a tennis costume that this is a tennis story such as "Wimbledon." It isn't; this is a drama-thriller about relationships, betrayal, and chance. The title is based on a tennis analogy.
Some people will really like this film, others will find it hard work or depressing. About three quarters of the way through there is a shock twist, the story changes from drama to thriller and doesn't end the way most people will have anticipated. The good aspect of this is that the film isn't boringly predictable, the problem is that some viewers will have great difficulty in suspending disbelief that the final outcome could possibly happen.
The central character, Chris Wilton (played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is a former tennis professional from a poor Irish background. The film starts with him doing a voice-over about the fact that in tennis sometimes the ball catches in the top of the net. If it tips over, "you win," if the ball falls back to your side, "you lose." Viewers who play or watch tennis will realise that when this happens on Match Point, what you win or lose is not just that point but the entire game.
Much later in the film, you see a round object hit the top of a barrier as it falls, and the camera zooms in in exactly the same way as it zoomed in on the tennis ball catching on the top of the net during Rhys Meyer's opening voice-over. This is the "Match Point" of his life - which side of the barrier the object falls will have life transforming consequences for the central character. But possibly not in the direction many viewers will expect at that point in the film.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers delivers an excellent performance as Chris Wilton, flawless except perhaps that he seems to have too perfectly removed the least sign in his looks, accent, mannerisms or dress that he supposedly comes from a poor Irish background. Arriving in London, he gets a job as a tennis coach, and one of his clients, Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode) introduces Chris to his super-wealthy family. Tom's sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer) falls very deeply in love with Chris: her father Alec (Brian Cox) is also impressed by him, and before he knows it Chris is being groomed both as Chloe's future husband and for a glittering business career in one of Alec's companies.
Chris is quickly seduced both by Chloe and by the life of wealth and comfort which her family offers. The one barrier on his path to a life of success and affluence is that he is badly smitten by Tom's actress fiancee Nola, played by Scarlett Johanssen. Perhaps the most implausible of the many unlikely elements of the film is that Scarlett Johanssen's character is not meeting with success in her acting career - for all the suggestion that she loses her confidence at interviews and auditions it is hard to credit that the gorgeous, smouldering femme fatale she plays throughout the film would be unable to land any acting roles.
The love triangle between Chris, Nola, and Chloe leads steadily and inexorably to disaster, but not the disaster which the viewer thinks you can see coming. At first Chris seems to be faced with a choice - on one side his wealthy and comfortable life with a woman who loves him, on the other, poverty and the woman who he really lusts after. You are never quite sure which of them - if either - he truly loves. But the choice he actually makes is much darker.
Emily Mortimer is in danger of getting typecast as the nice girl who falls badly for a man who lets her down, but perhaps this is because, as in "Sleeping Dictionary" and "Young Adam," she plays this role very well.
Besides Rhys Meyers, Johanssen, and Mortimer, the rest of the cast are excellent, including James Nesbitt as a police detective.
The shared taste which gets Chris his initial introduction to Tom's family is a love of opera, and the soundtrack features many opera greats including arias from La Traviata, Rigoletto and Macbeth, both recent performances and old recordings by Caruso and others.
The biggest issue which many people, especially those who know London well, will have with the film is the credibility of the conclusion. I don't think anyone can have told Woody Allen that Britain has a fifth of the world's CCTV cameras and London has more of them than any other city on earth. This gives me a real problem with the final denoument - I can't really write any more than this without giving away the ending.
Overall this was a clever and stylish film. I'm glad I watched it, but would put this down as one to rent rather than buy.